Indiana University Opera Theater’s production of The Merry Widow is delightful. It’s candy for the eyes as well as for the ears.
The dialog is done in English with excellent diction and a bit of sound reinforcement to keep it all clear. The singing is in German. I think for The Merry Widow this works very well. The plot and the comedy are pretty much covered in the dialog. Although the text of the songs was projected, the details of the lyrics are more general than specific so a quick look or two at the words was all that necessary.
The Merry Widow has one of those durable plots that Ross Allen the long time host of “Sunday Opera” on WFIU used to call a “Ruritanian Romance.” An imaginary country is on the verge of bankruptcy and can be saved if only the patriotic Count Danilo, the graceful Brendon Marsh, will marry the rich Merry Widow, the personable Katherine Weber. (Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could work out our financial difficulties that simply.)
There’s plenty of court intrigue. A count, the resolute Benjamin Werley, is in love with the ambassador’s wife. The ambassador is stiffly comic as played by Brayton Arvin. His considerably more flexible wife was the charming Hanna Brammer. The ambassador is assisted by his assistant, the comical Max Zander. On the outskirts of all these tensions were David Gordon-Johnson and Benjamin Cortez playing a couple of feuding Frenchman. Each seemed to be trying to out Inspector Clouzou the other.
Guest conductor Dale Rieling led the sparkling production…by the way for fans of the instrument; I should mention that there is an on-stage mandolin trio…for one number. The opening night cast all sang well. Acting was at a high level and stage director Vincent Liotta has done a lovely job of choreographing the comedy and the brief romantic moments. It’s a very funny show.
As I walked out two fellows in front of me were humming one of the tunes. Franz Lehar’s tunes can stick with you. After a few days the music may fade, but some of the memories of the startlingly lovely and varied costume by Linda Pisano are going to be indelible. For the final scene the Merry Widow herself glides down a spiral staircase in a costume simply dripping in mink, it was a breath taking moment.